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MacDowell, Marsha, Ph.D.

Curator of Folk Arts, MSU Museum
Professor, Department of Art and Art History

Research Interests/Experience

Dr. MacDowell has, for many years, been primarily engaged in the documentation and analysis of the production, meaning, and use of traditional material culture (especially that of Hmong-Americans, Native Americans, South Africans, and women); the analysis of the role of museums in contemporary society; and the development of educational resources and public arts policies related to traditional arts. Her work, as a publicly-engaged scholar, is grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to material culture and is informed primarily by art historical, folkloristic, and ethnographic theories and methodologies. She has been particularly interested in developing research projects in collaboration with representatives of the communities and cultural groups and in being engaged in projects that have a positive impact on identified societal needs.

Current research projects include a study on the history and contemporary South Africa quiltmaking; historical and contemporary Great Lakes Native quilting, quillwork, and basketmaking traditions; the impact of the 1930s-era The Detroit News Quilt Show and WWJ radio quilt show on quiltmaking in Michigan; the history and meaning of Michigan community history quilts; the development of Native basketmaking organizations in the U.S.; identification and oral history documentation of key leaders of the late 20th-century quilt revival in the U.S.; development of web-based curriculum materials related to community-based knowledge; creating tools to access and use digital collections of traditional arts; and developing standards for video oral histories.
While the focus of the majority of my activities has been in Michigan and the Great Lakes region, some projects have been national and international in scope. Current activities for which I serve as co-PI: Quilt Treasures (online multi-media presentations on key leaders of the late 20th-century quilt revival in the U.S); the Quilt Index, a digital repository of distributed data related to quilts, quiltmakers, and quiltmaking; Oral History in a Digital Age, and the South African Quilt History Project.
Dr. MacDowell is founding and current editor of H-Quilts, founding and current board member of The Alliance for American Quilts, a past-president of The American Quilt Study Group, coordinator of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (a statewide partnership between the MSU Museum and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs), a core founding and core faculty member of the Museum Studies Program at MSU, executive board member for the American Folklore Society, and member of the editorial board of the international journal Museum Anthropology.

Selected Publications

  • MacDowell, Marsha and LuAnne Kozma. 2009. Folk Arts in Education: A Resource Book II. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum
  • Dewhurst, C. Kurt, Marsha MacDowell, and Narissa Ramdhani, 2008. "Lessons Lived and Learned in Developing and Managing a Bi-National Cultural Heritage Sector Project in South Africa," Museum Anthropology Review, Vol. 2, No. 1.
  • Marsha MacDowell and Kathleen S. Myers. Weaving History: A Basket Heritage Project, East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum, 2007.
  • Yvonne Lockwood and Marsha MacDowell. Honoring Traditions: Michigan Heritage Awards, 1985-2004, East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum, 2007.
  • MacDowell, Marsha and Julie Avery. 2006. CraftWORKS! Michigan: A Report on Traditional Crafts and Economic Development in Michigan. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum in collaboration with Office of Economic Development, Department of History, Arts, and Libraries, State of Michigan.
  • MacDowell, Marsha, Mary Worrall, and Charlotte Quinney. 2006. "The K.K.K. Fundraising Quilt of Chicora, Michigan." in Joanna E. Evans, ed., Uncoverings 2006: Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group, Vol. 27, pp. 91-122.
  • Ariel Zeitlin Cooke and Marsha MacDowell. Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory, East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Museum in collaboration with City Lore, Inc. and the Vermont Folklife Center, 2005.
  • Marsha MacDowell and C. Kurt Dewhurst. "Carriers of Culture: Teaching and Learning Native Basketry," Cultural Arts Resources for Teachers and Students (C.A.R.T.S.), Vol. 9, 2007, pp 4, 7, 9.
  • Marsha MacDowell, Justine Richardson, Mark Kornbluh, Dennis Boone, and Dean Rehberger. "Developing Collaborative Online Collections Using an Open Source Digital Repository: The Quilt Index Case Study," 2003 Museums and the Web Conference Proceedings, 2003.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. American Quilts from Michigan State University Museum. Tokyo, Japan: Hokosai Art, 2003.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. "Collecting Stories: The Oral Interview and Quilt Research," American Quilt Study Group Technical Guide #2. American Quilt Study Group: Lincoln, Nebraska, 2002.
  • MacDowell, Marsha. "Quilts and Their Stories: Revealing a Hidden History," Uncoverings: Journal of the American Quilt Study Group. 21, 2000. (See Community of Science resources for more information.) 

Selected Exhibitions

  • "Unpacking Collections: The Legacy of Cuesta Benberry, An African American Quilt Scholar," MSU Museum, December 6, 2009 - December 12, 2010
  • "Quilts and Human Rights," MSU Museum, January 15 - August 24, 2008
  • "Dear Mrs Parks, Dear Mr Mandela: Children's Letters, Global Lessons," Nelson Mandela Museum, Mthatha, South Africa, July 17, 2008 - July 1, 2010 and MSU Museum, January 17, 2010 - January 3, 2011.
  • "Carriers of Culture: Living Native Basket Traditions" Festival Program, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the National Mall, Washington D.C., June 2006.
  • "Siyazama: Traditional Arts, AIDS, and Education in South Africa," MSU Museum, 2007.
  • "Weaving History: A Basket Heritage Project," MSU Museum, 2007.
  • "To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions," (a collaborative project between the National Museum of the American Indian and Michigan State University Museum), National Museum of the American Indian, New York, New York, October 16, 1997 - January 4, 1998; MSU Museum, East Lansing, Michigan, April 19 - October 18, 1998; Fuller Museum of Art, Brockton, Massachusetts, March 13 - June 6, 1999; Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio, July 3 - September 26, 1999; Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana, October 23, 1999 - January 16, 2000; Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, February 12 - May 7, 2000; Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma, Washington, June 3 - August 27, 2000; Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico, September 23 - December 31, 2000; Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, January 13 - April 8, 2001. Major funding provided by the Smithsonian Institution, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund.
  • "Great Lakes Native Quilting," MSU Museum, September 19, 1999 - February 6, 2000; Sloan Museum, Flint, Michigan, September 14 - November 14, 2001
  • "Gatherings: Great Lakes Native Basket and Boxmakers," Nokomis American Indian Center (Okemos, MI) in collaboration with the MSUMuseum, February - August 1999
  • "African American Quilting in Michigan," MSU Museum, East Lansing, Michigan, February 3 - September 29, 1991; Museum of African American History, Detroit, Michigan, November 1, 1991 - January 1, 1992; Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan February 23 - April 5, 1992; Ella Sharp Museum, Jackson, Michigan, January 14 - March 7, 1993

Selected Honors

  • International Quilt Study Center Research Fellowship
  • Américo Paredes Award, American Folklore Society, 2004
  • Thailand Museums and Communities, Fulbright, 1992
  • All-University Excellence in Diversity Award, Michigan State University, 1991
  • Crystal Award, City of East Lansing, 1990
  • American Association of State and Local History Award, 1988


Ph.D., Education, Michigan State University, 1982
M.F.A., Studio Art, Michigan State University, 1974